Debut novelist Jennine Capó Crucet shares her most recent recommendations, the nuance between fact and fiction, and the childhood dream-theft of a tomato that (arguably) set her on the path to writing. Make Your Home Among Strangers was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.
What’s the earliest memory you have of writing a story?
I was 8 years old: I tried to write a story based on a wacky dream I’d had. The story tried to be faithful to the dream, but it involved the phrase “GIVE ME BACK MY TOMATO!!” (I remembered this phrase very vividly upon waking) and an underwater garden where I worked with a dolphin who was possibly my co-farmer. The story was pretty much a failure (at least according to my critics—namely, my little sister, who was forced to hear me read it aloud when my parents backed away in fear at my insistence that I had to get this thing in my head out of my head).
What is the question you are asked most frequently about your writing?
I’m very often asked how much of my work is based on my real life, which I think is an odd question to ask of a fiction writer: it’s all made up. Of course, the feelings I try to convey via my work are true in that I have felt some version of those feelings. But the way I see it, if the reader believes the story, then the story is true, regardless of whether it really happened to me (or anyone) or not. I also sometimes wonder/worry if I get this question so often because I tend to write about women who happen to be Cuban-American—I worry that the person asking the question feels comfortable conflating me with my characters for that reason.
What book would you consider an ancestor of Make Your Home Among Strangers?
Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, from which the epigraph was taken.
What’s the last book that made you cry?
Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I recently reread for the fourth time in an effort to recalibrate my heart.
What’s your favorite indie bookstore? What’s the most recent book you’ve purchased?
I have so much hometown love for Books & Books, which is in Miami (and which my family knows is my go-to place for holiday gift shopping: If you are related to me and I love you, you’re getting a gift card to Books & Books). But I have a new flame now that I’ve moved halfway across the country: Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln, NE. It’s two blocks from my apartment and so is quickly becoming my home away from home (away from home).
The most recent book I purchased was while on a trip out west at a whole other indie bookstore—Powell’s in Portland. I bought Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
What is the first book you ever remember reading?
The first book I can remember reading myself is an elementary school reader called Birds Fly, Bears Don’t. Does anyone else remember this book? What a buzzkill, that title. Five-year-old me was very bummed to learn bears couldn’t fly. Thirty-three year old me takes issue with such an assertion.
Jennine Capó Crucet is the author of Make Your Home Among Strangers and a story collection, How to Leave Hialeah, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, John Gardner Book Prize, Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Miami Herald and the Latinidad List. A PEN/O. Henry Prize winner and Bread Loaf Fellow, she was a Picador Guest Professor at the University of Leipzig, Germany. She was raised in Miami and is currently assistant professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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