English Composition II - Dr. Lovell's class

Page 6:  Twenty-Four Questions: An Interview with Alberto Alvaro Rios

[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]

On Culture

Miguel Garcia: Mr. Ríos, I have really enjoyed reading your poetry and short stories. I grew up on the Mexican side of the border and can identify with a lot of the imagery in your work. I have now lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years. Although I was influenced by English as a child, I really learned it as an adult. That is why I am very interested in knowing how the two languages interact in your writing. Even though you were not allowed to speak Spanish as a child after you started school and you had to "relearn" it when you were older, do you consider Spanish your first language? Does the structure of Spanish (as opposed to the vocabulary) influence your writing? 

AR: Hello, Miguel. I appreciate your comments and concerns in general. Let's see--Do I consider Spanish my first language? Yes, I've said this for many years. As I since thought about it, however, I've come to the realization that my first language was really what I've called the "language of listening." What came out of my mouth was not nearly so important as what entered my ear. For me Spanish was all around me, but my mother was there, too--with a British accent. I had a zoo of sounds. Your question about the structure of Spanish is particularly interesting to me. I do absolutely think that the structure (and more) of Spanish influences my work, things much beyond simple vocabulary. If I had to say it succinctly, I would say that I write in Spanish--it just looks like English. I do occasionally write in Spanish, but when I do it's from another time, from childhood, often. I listen hard for how ideas come to me, in what container they are being delivered, and I try to be true to it. Sometimes that container is Spanish. 

Miguel Garcia: Do you write in Spanish? When you write in English, do you ever "rewrite" your work into Spanish? 

AR: I do sometimes rewrite my work into Spanish, but it never works well in the sense that when I begin to do this I invariably begin to think of other things, so a whole other poem or story starts to happen. This is the curse and the grace of a writer.

Miguel Garcia: Your writing carries a lot of emotional impact. Is it even possible to "translate" that? I know that a literal translation probably wouldn't have the same emotional meaning.

AR: I do think that translation has little to do with vocabulary and everything to do with meaning. That's why computers have a rough time. I have many lectures on this subject!

Miguel Garcia: I am looking forward to reading more of your works. Do you have a favorite? (Or is that like asking which of your children you like best?) Thank you for taking time to share your perspectives with us. 

AR: What is my own favorite? You're right, it's impossible for me to choose. All I ever do is suggest my latest book at the time, which currently happens to be a memoir, Capirotada. Interestingly, I will be doing what's called a "Selected Poems" book in the near future, and it's going to be torture. In creating such a book, you go through all your earlier work and choose the "best." Aaaaargh.-- 

Phyllis Ennis: Do you feel that having parents from two different ethnic groups and the way you were raised play a key role in the topics you choose to write about? I know how it is growing up with two different rituals to follow. My mother is Spanish-Catholic and my father is American-Jew. I really enjoyed your poem "Nani"-- it took me back when I was young visiting my Aunts and Uncles in Spain. They too will keep feeding you even though you are about to pop. Thank you for your time, Phyllis. 

AR: Yes, yes, yes! I think this is crucial to how I write. It's helped me to get a sense of multiple perspectives in my writing and writing process, which has helped me more than anything else. For example, there are two ways to say everything, and they are both right. This knowledge helps me immensely in my writing, showing me that there are many ways to say something. I still have an ultimate responsibility to make what I say be clear, but still there are many ways. 

Melissa Childers: Have you ever told the women in your life how important they are to you (verbally) or do you let your writing tell them how much you admire them? Although we have only a small selection of your works, I noticed that they openly address the unconditional love that you had for your mother and Nani - who else influenced your life as much as they - any men? 

AR: What intriguing questions and observations! I do indeed tell the women in my life that I care for them, but the moment is invariably fleeting. My writing extends the moment, and keeps it. That is a wise observation for you to make. 

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Web page author and instructor: Dr. Linda Lovell
This page was last updated on 11/06/2007.