Ana Menendez at Drake

Introductory remarks by Amy Letter: I don’t usually introduce our talks with stories of my own, but this is an exception. Because Ana’s work is very dear to my heart.

In 2003 I was forced to move to San Francisco. As fates go, this one was not so bad. But my family was far away in Florida, and I missed them, and the ocean was on the wrong side. Also, I’d moved there to be with someone else, because he was the love of my life. It was the right decision, but it was hard, because he had reasons to be there – a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford. He had “institutional affiliation” and “fellows” (we actually called them “steg-folk”) and he also had “invitations” – and I only had him.

I made the best of it. I got a job at a brewery that let me take home a case of beer every week. San Francisco was expensive, so that free case was pretty much all the entertainment I could afford. But the beer was good, and I was in love, and though it was always cold and damp and dreary I kept myself warm with dreams of home.

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One day I found myself walking down Valencia Street, visiting the little bookshops there. It was gray: gray sky, gray street. I’m sure some of the buildings must have been aqua marine, but I was kind of down in those days, homesick and full of longing, so what I remember is the gray. And I looked in the window of one of the bookstores and I saw this shock of a yellow book, with palm trees and a bright bird that reminded me of home. And best of all its title: In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd.

Perhaps in part because I grew up in South Florida and have known a few Cubans, I understood the joke before I read that title story. When I was there, I was a big deal – strong and sleek, you couldn’t ignore me. Here, I’m just some yippy little thing. Now it’s probably inappropriate to compare a few years longing for home and family to the loss of property, freedom, life, and livelihood that characterizes the Cuban diaspora, but I was still in my 20s, and my sister’s son was very sick, and I was missing the majority of his short life.

This book was like sunlight warming a soul chilled by northern rain and fog – it transported me as only a book can do. And it wasn’t just that it was mostly set in Florida, that it painted pictures of home – it was also about exile, as a universal concept… that separation and heartache and homesickness, that slow motion sense of loss that never falls completely into the past tense, that never quite resolves from “losing” to “having lost.”

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And then I found out she had a second book! Loving Che: with its explorations into the past that turns up as much of fantasy as history – I so adored this book that when I returned to Florida and started teaching at a university there, it was among the first books I taught to my students. When her third book, The Last War, came out, I sought her out and interviewed her for The Rumpus. I was incredibly flattered when Harper Collins included that interview in the book’s paperback edition.

But then I received an advanced copy of Adios, Happy Homeland! And it was like the sky opened up. All of her books are incredibly different from one another, but this was a book apart even granting that – experimental, clever, challenging, even sort of interactive — both a book and a game.

Adios, Happy Homeland! has taken its place as one of my favorite books of all time. As I hope it has done or will do for you. But I know that Ana is working on book #5, and so I am bracing myself to once again have my mind blown.

It is with nothing short of joy that I introduce to you Ana Menendez.

 

The Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Reading Series brings writers and critics to Drake University to speak to students and give readings of their work and ideas.

All of our events are free and open to the public.