Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes is the author of Are We Ever Our Own, which was published by BOA Editions on May 24, 2022 and won the BOA Short Fiction Prize. Moving between Cuba and the U.S., the stories in Are We Ever Our Own trace the paths of the women of the far-flung Armando Castell family. Learn more about Fuentes and her work through this exclusive self-interview!
What inspired the stories in this collection?
These stories are wide ranging in terms of genre, time period, style, focus, but many of them were inspired by the work of visual and performance artists. I would fall in love with an artists’ work, research them, and then remix or translate their work into a story. I might focus on the life of the artist themselves, on their art or artistic practice, on their legacy, or fictionalize a compilation of multiple artists. This comes from a technique I learned in grad school—a way of fueling one’s creative work and expanding it at the same time. I love the strange alchemy of moving from one discipline to the next, of discovering what can be translated and what can’t. Some of the artists whose work I drew on are: Ana Mendieta, Adrian Piper, Hannah Wilke, Maya Deren, and the Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno.
Many of these stories are also inspired directly by my family. For example, “The Night of the Almiqui” is a sort of reimagining of a chapter in my paternal grandmother’s life. She was born in Cuba and emigrated to the U.S. after the revolution. Though she passed on when I was a child, I grew up hearing stories about her—this tiny, ferocious woman, who had little education and loved to read, who brought food to Castro’s rebels, who faced anti-Black racism in the U.S. and Cuba, who was a deeply loving and unpredictable woman. Writing the story was a way of connecting with her in a way I never got to in life. Writing was my way of remembering her.
What connects these stories?
I love short story collections that push the boundaries of connection, that feel almost as if they are too diffuse, yet challenge the reader to find the patterns within them. On one level, these are all stories of the women in one imagined Cuban-American family—based in part on my own, but made more mythic, more wide ranging. I imagined a clan that emigrated in several generations, that cast itself around the world, and intersected with each other without knowing they did so. Many of the women in these stories are mixed—culturally, racially—as I am, so they are also connected by the particular sense of longing and in-betweenness that comes from being neither/nor, both/and. I also see all of the women in these stories as artists. Some are overtly so—musicians, dancers, painters. But others are trying to make their life into a type of art, are trying to live in a way that hasn’t been afforded them because of the bodies they were born into. They are trying to remake the world around them into a world where their full selves can be imagined.
A final point of connection (though I hope the reader finds more!) is the figure of La Caridad del Cobre. She’s the patron saint of Cuba and a syncretism of several religious figures including the goddess Oshun. Both sides of my family—Irish and Cuban—are Catholic. Though I wasn’t really raised in the church, I grew up with figures of the Madonna everywhere—my mother literally collected them! I see La Caridad del Cobre as a meeting point of my family’s different lineages—a site of both experimentation and veneration.
Your first book was a novel, what was different about writing this story collection?
Working on this collection was so different from writing a novel! When I’m writing a novel, I have this one big idea, and everything that doesn’t fit, gets pushed to the side. In some ways, I think writing stories is more fun—there’s more room for play, for strange ideas that might not sustain a novel, but are still rich and complex. I used to consider myself almost exclusively a novelist, but after working on this project, I want to write another story collection! I have a couple new stories that I like, but that didn’t fit in this collection—and I have a lot of stories that will never see the light of day! With this collection, some of the stories I had already written without a book in mind, but more recent ones were written in consideration of what terrain already existed and what might be filled in. I wrote the final story, “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” knowing I was writing the final story in the book. I wanted something that both brought various threads together and continued to open up the world of the collection.