English Composition II - Dr. Lovell's class

Twenty-Four Questions:
A Conversation with Alberto Alvaro Ríos

In October, 2001, writer Alberto Alvaro Ríos made a virtual visit to a web-based
English composition class at Northwest Arkansas Community College in
Bentonville/Rogers, Arkansas. The students had lots of great questions.

From an online bio:  "Ríos was born in 1952 in Nogales, Arizona, where he grew
up along the Mexican border.  His father was from Mexico and his mother from
England, all of this giving his work an attentive, transcultural voice.  Ríos
currently holds the distinction of Regents' Professor at Arizona State University,
where he has taught for almost 18 years."   

Page 1: On Writing   
Page 2: On the Writing Process
Page 3: On Reading
Page 4: On Creativity and Imagination

Page 5: On Teaching 
Page 6: On Culture 
Page 7: Some General Questions  
Page 8: On the September 11th Attacks  
Page 9:
An Essay by Ríos on the
            September 11th Attacks:
            "The Night of No Airplanes"
            and Some Final Comments

Alberto Ríos Bio   
Alberto Ríos Home Page 

Links to works mentioned in this conversation:

Sheilah Britton, "Discovering the Alphabet of Life"
Alberto Rios, "Nani" and "The Cities Inside Us"

On Writing

Janene Archuleta: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

AR: This is a good question, one that I've had to think about many times. The truth is, there never was a moment like that for me. I never had a sudden epiphany that told me, aha! I want to be a writer. Instead, I've just always written. And by writing I mean something far more complex than simply putting a pen to paper. By writing I also mean listening to the world, thinking about it, remembering things, being surprised at the things I remember, and so on. If I had waited for the moment you describe, I still wouldn't be a writer today! 

Laura Whitaker: Do you have a certain reader in mind before you begin to brainstorm?

AR: No, not really. But I do keep this test always in mind: Could I tell this story, or this poem, or this whatever, could I tell it across my kitchen table? That is, I do not think of a certain reader, but I certainly know that a reader is out there. 

Laura Whitaker: Has it ever been hard for you as a writer to get in touch with your voice? Have you ever found yourself writing, using another's words? 

AR: No. This hasn't really been anything I've had to wrestle with. I know what you mean--writers are always talking about their "voice." I think the best advice is to just write and write and write--your voice will be in there somewhere. 

Laura Whitaker: How do you use location, events and symbols to convey what you are feeling and how that helps to develop your story?

AR: Do I use events, locations, and symbols to further the meanings in my stories? I hope that's close to what you asked. Yes, indeed, indeed. That is one big reason I write about the border so much, for example. As a place, it's simply one more point of geography. But a border has many, many meanings as a symbol, and I base much of my writing on that edge. I don't always start out thinking that every last thing I'm using in a story is representative of something else, but very often, after writing for so many years, the things I choose to include do often fit a greater story. I try to relax about these things, and trust that the choices I make will always add up to something greater. When I've tried to purposely choose something, however, I've found that writing is often bullied around by that choice, and I lose some freedom because I know I have to pay attention to that choice. Does that make sense? 

Several students from Dr. Hubbard’s class: What inspired you to write "The Secret Lion"? Was it written from your experience or was it completely fictional? 

AR: "The Secret Lion"--ah, you've asked a good question. No, it's not fictional at all--that is, all the physical parts of the story happened, and those places all exist. The golf course in the hills was called Meadow Hills Country Club--and it was so hidden I truly didn't know it was back there. We did not go to country clubs--enough said. The dialogue and thoughts in the story, however--these were "managed" by me. I remember the whole experience, but I didn't have a tape recorder with me. So, I had to make up much of the thoughtful parts of the story and the dialogue. The story is so important to me, I didn't want it to simply be thought of as a piece of fiction. I recently revised it somewhat and included it in my last book, a memoir about growing up on the border, called Capirotada. In that version, I don't dramatize the story the same way. It might be of interest to some of you to take a look. 

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This interview has been edited for continuity and spelling. The interview was given on October 18, 2001.

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Web page author and instructor: Dr. Linda Lovell
This page was last updated on 08/07/2008.