Some General Questions
Mandy Pierce: Mr. Ríos, thank you for taking time to answer our
questions. I want to tell you I have really enjoyed reading your work that we were
assigned to read. I was wondering what advice you would give a student who is considering
becoming a Journalism Major?
AR: Ah, journalism. Journalism majors have the unenviable task of trying
to learn how to take themselves out of their writing. They have to be invisible. The news,
or the event, or whatever--that's what has to be up front. For creative writers, the
writer is much more evident. So, learning to be unbiased and objective--do anything in
that regard that helps. And the best thing of all is what I call the "language of
listening." This goes for creative writers as well. Listening is a dying art. By this
I mean that we must not simply take things in, but we must learn to value what we take in,
on its own terms, rather than dismissing it or putting our own context on the words. This
can be very difficult. You will know you have done this successfully when you write some
words you, personally, would never, ever have said yourself--and you let them be, without
further comment. At that point, you know you are not writing yourself into the story. This
is much harder than it seems.
Samuel Glover: In your poem "The Cities Inside Us" what first
gave you the motivation and idea to write such a poem. I think it gives a great depiction
of what actually goes on in our minds and bodies every day. But what confuses me is the
part about the "sound not coming out or an arm reaching out in place of the
tongue." What do you mean by that?
AR: By "sound not coming out, or an arm reaching out in place of the
tongue," what I was getting at is that we carry so many people and places and
experiences inside us I'm always amazed we can keep moving forward. Our minds are so full
of so much, and inside there everything is so vivid, so alive, so meaningful. I suppose,
in some fashion, this is a question many philosophers have dealt with for many centuries,
along with the Surrealists at the beginning of the 20th century. When someone speaks in
your mind, it sometimes feels like everyone can hear.
Laura Whitaker: Can you expound on Rugged Individualism in American
Writing? Why do you think Americans integrate "I" so much in their
writing? Why is it so challenging for Americans to see themselves as a part of
something and not easily motivated to become a part of that something? Why can we not
accommodate ourselves as readily as the Spanish writers? Good stuff!
AR: This is a lot of stuff! Rugged individualism in American writing--I'm
wondering if you read what I already wrote on it, in one of my essays or interviews? The
structure of the English language gives a place of privilege to the "I," and we
learn this from the very beginning. This can't help but shape our attitudes about things.
Other languages work in ways that don't require the speaker to necessarily say
"I." That's hard for us to comprehend, sometimes, as English speakers, but it is
true nevertheless. The "I" is culturally understood, or sometimes even rude.
Imagine speaking without saying "I"! Part of this stems from an appreciation of
the life in things as much as people. I often talk about the need for what I call
"rugged pluralism" in our writing and our thinking. This is a call to the
imagination, that we must all work harder at truly learning to understand--and to
value--the real idea of individualism--which means that we are all individuals
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