National Book Award nominee to speak at Forks, Port Angeles Peninsula College sites starting Wednesday
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National Book Award nominee and Guggenheim fellow Cristina Garcia will speak twice this week on Peninsula College campuses in Forks and Port Angeles.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — If you have ever wondered where you belong, if you have ever been obsessed with a place or if you’ve ever felt unconditional love, then you have something in common with a Cristina Garcia character.

So promises Reina Barreto, the Peninsula College language professor welcoming Garcia, the National Book Award nominee and Guggenheim fellow, to the campus this week.

Both Barreto and Garcia have parents from Cuba, and both women relish a good story about family, memory and belonging.

These are what Garcia will explore when she gives two public presentations as Peninsula College’s 14th Writer in Residence: stories about people seeking their place in the world and seeking to navigate the differences between us.

Garcia, who divides her time between teaching at Texas State University in San Marcos and writing novels — from Dreaming in Cuban in 1992 to King of Cuba, just out in paperback — will first give a reading of poetry and prose at the college’s Forks Extension Site, 71 S. Forks Ave., at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Barreto will join Garcia to give simultaneous translation of English into Spanish during this free public program.

In Port Angeles on Thursday, Garcia will give a keynote speech, “Cultivating Chaos: Fresh Paths to Creativity,” at 12:35 p.m. in the Little Theater on the main campus, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd.

“It’s kind of a craft talk, about how the path to creativity is a very messy and nonlinear business,” Garcia said in an interview last week from Berkeley, Calif., where she was visiting a friend.

She’ll delve into “how you deliberately shake things up, and how you can generate the unexpected in your work. It’s mainly for writers,” she added, “but also for anyone looking to shake things up a little.”

Garcia herself has been stirring up the literary world since she left her post as Time magazine’s Miami bureau chief in 1990.

She’s a journalist-turned-novelist whose Dreaming in Cuban received the National Book Award nomination.

The novel centers on a young Cuban-American woman coming of age in the United States, but there are other points of view filling out the story.

Garcia is known for using multiple narrators, characters who rely on their imagination and creativity to survive.

In Garcia’s stories — translated into 14 languages — there are revolutionary grandmothers, entrepreneurs, a lady matador and even a fictionalized Fidel Castro.

The novels are about Cubans and exiles, but they are also about spirituality, human nature and our connection to the natural world.

Garcia “has paved the way for other Latino and Latina writers,” Barreto said, “and especially for women writers.”

Yet the novelist wonders about the future of literature.

So much competes for our attention now, Garcia said, what with the Internet and all our devices.

Setting them aside to surrender to the languor of a novel is hard, even for her.

As she works on her next book, a novel about Cubans living in Berlin, Garcia is rereading The Tin Drum, the lengthy work by Gunter Grass.

“I have to make time for it. But I’m happily making progress,” she said.

Giving herself over to a story, indulging in the luxury of being inside another world is for her one of life’s great pleasures.

As a novelist, “you hope your language can seduce people,” Garcia said.

With her next book, as in the others, Garcia promises to take readers on a winding path, with memories, tilted angles and flashbacks.

Some 22 years after the release of Dreaming in Cuban, Garcia hails her fellow Latin American writers for their influence on literature.

When she was starting out, there were barely a handful of well-known novelists: Oscar Hijuelos, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros among them.

“It’s been kind of a revolution,” Garcia said.

“Latino literature is reinventing, redefining mainstream literature. It’s changing how we think about what’s considered literary.

“A lot of it has an accent,” she said, “and that’s OK.”


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at

Last modified: April 28. 2014 6:37PM
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