On the occasion of the paperback release of his well-received first novel, The People of Paper, Salvador Plascencia talks with guest blogger Daniel A. Olivas over at The Elegant Variation. The conversation covers the book's non-traditional form and Plascencia's success at not being pigeon-holed as a Latino writer first. Sample:
OLIVAS: When your novel came out, you made a comment that caused a bit of controversy within the Chicano writing world. In a Los Angeles Times interview, you responded to a question regarding your decision to publish with McSweeney’s and not a Latino imprint. You answered: "The Latino imprints never called when it was going around. McSweeney's called. But I'm very happy because now the book doesn't get reviewed as a 'Latino imprint' book, but as a book. As a writer, I align myself with aesthetics, not ethnicity. Why is Jonathan Safran Foer not published by a Jewish American press? Should John Edgar Wideman and Toni Morrison be published only by black presses? There is something comforting in the fact that these ethnic collectives exist, but they can also have a ghettoizing effect."
PLASCENCIA: Maybe I'm insensitive to the old school Chicanismo, but I don't see anything particularly inciting about what I said. I just don't have the desire to forefront my ethnicity over my writing. Identity politics bore me, especially when its infighting within the group. A lot of it becomes about people sitting around a table arguing about who is more Chicano and who is a sellout. But who are these arbitrators that get to set the standards of what is Latino or not? It's fair game to critique my book on a aesthetic level, or to call it unreadable, but when it gets knocked for not being Chicano enough or for not fulfilling my ethnic obligation to my group and roots it's a retrograde argument that, to be honest, I'm not really interested in. And it's only minority writers that have to put up with this, and that was my whole point.
OLIVAS: Who are your literary influences?
PLASCENCIA: Obviously Márquez. And then there is: Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, David Markson, Angela Carter, I remember some and forget others depending on the day. Borges, Morrison, George Saunders, Jiri Grusa, Kafka, Winterson...
OLIVAS: I listen to jazz when I write (Miles, Monk, Puente, etc.). Did you listen to music when you wrote your novel? If so, did the music influence your fiction?
PLASCENCIA: I didn't have a particular sound track. Whatever was on the radio. A lot of KCRW that I piped in all the way from Santa Monica to Syracuse, New York. I would also listen to what my roommate played on his stereo. He has much better taste in music than I will ever have.
As longtime LA Observed readers know, Olivas is an author, a lit-blogger at La Bloga and the deputy state attorney general who oversaw the fight for public access to the sand in front of David Geffen's Carbon Beach home.
Noted: Daniel Hernandez of the LA Weekly and Theresa Duncan of The Wit of the Staircase are on the featured bill for The Vermin on the Mount writerly gathering Sunday night at The Mountain in Chinatown.