These are the disciplines that shape my life as I travel from one home to another in three beautiful states: New York, Connecticut, and North Carolina. New York City is where I publish; Branford, Connecticut is where I dream; and Durham, North Carolina is where I teach.
I simply could not have predicted such a peripatetic existence back in 1981, the year I left graduate school with an M.A. in Hispanic literature and headed to Manhattan to begin my career. I began working at The Americas Society, a non-profit center that promotes diplomacy between the United States and Latin America. This organization, founded by David Rockefeller, enabled me to collaborate with the greatest Latin American writers and thinkers in the world. I interacted with scholars, editors, businessmen, and diplomats during my tenure there, first as an editorial assistant, then as deputy director, and ultimately as director of literature and publications. It was at The Americas Society that my understanding of Latin American traditions, political currents, histories, myths, and realities began to inform my passion for writing. I realized that, perhaps, I had a mission: to help make Ibero-Latin American and Latino cultures better understood in the United States.
In the 1990s I began to write full time. My first collection of short stories, Where Angels Glide at Dawn, was published in 1992 by Harper and Row. This book featured stories for children by famous Latin American poets and novelists. Soon after, my landmark anthology Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the U.S. would follow. Cool Salsa (Henry Holt, 1994) was a revelation. At the time, most publishers in New York didn’t realize there was a burgeoning Latino population eager to buy books about their own particular cultural and linguistic challenges, their hopes, and their dreams. The commercial and critical success of Cool Salsa encouraged me to continue on my imagined path; a path of artistry, research, and philosophical development that, while sometimes lonely, has been incredibly rewarding.
While reaching out to young adults and children through my earlier books, I was also discovering more about myself as a woman. The process of evolution, of maturity, has been the focus of my novels. To this end, I have focused on two areas in my professional life: the works I have edited and translated for young adults, including those that give voice to Asian American and American Indian concerns, and the novels I write for adults.
My novels, The Sunday Tertulia, The Flamboyant, and my new work-in-progress, explore the roles of women in society and the quest for love and meaningful expression, as well as the mysterious process of artistic creation. To date, I have published 16 books and each and every one has taken me on an adventure of self discovery and discovery of other restless souls around the globe.
At Duke University, each spring, I have the privilege of instructing an array of amazing youth. My students look like the world. They are of diverse race, ethnicity, and religious orientation. They are fantastic. Bright, energetic, funny. They make me feel positive about the future of our nation. In fact, I can’t think of a better place to be in the spring than Duke University. I try to teach my students what I have learned along the way...not only about literature and the craft of writing but the potential of heart-ache, the power of personality, the windows of hope, and the magic of courage.
Finally, I feel blessed. I am thankful for so many things, not least among them being able to work and live alongside my husband, Oscar Hijuelos; having the support of a loving family; and being able to commune with people of all walks of life through writing books, consulting at Simon & Schuster, and lecturing at one of the finest universities in the country.