Angie Cruz on Finding the Fun in Writing Again
In Conversation with Guest Host Mira Jacob on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, guest host Mira Jacob chats with novelist Angie Cruz (How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water) about figuring out who you want to be, Angie’s semi-secret history in fashion design and painting, the arrival of her character Cara Romero in her life, and questioning the truths of America in these most trying of times.
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From the conversation:
Angie Cruz: One thing that has been true about my practice is that when I start giving up on the work or get frustrated or I guess what people call writer’s block, I usually turn to something else. When it was Soledad, I was painting a lot. A lot of people don’t know this, but I painted for pretty much up until my thirties, pretty much every day. I was painting and drawing not with a goal, just for pleasure.
And with Soledad, I remember working on the book, and when I would get frustrated with it, I would just start painting, and then the writing would get jealous. It would get incredibly jealous! It would be like, Why are you ignoring me? And I think that’s what was going on in that moment. I think something like that where I was like, I’m going to quit. And it’s something inside of me where the writing is like, no, you’re not going to quit! I’m showing up for you.
This divine intervention happened with Cara Romero, and I had to create rules for myself because I actually felt like part of my frustration with writing is that I couldn’t find inspiration. I was full of despair. I truly can’t remember a moment where I felt more at a loss than that particular moment where Trump was president.
And now, in retrospect, I realize the bullying reminded me a lot of trauma that I experienced as a child at home. And I gave myself a constraint: I said, I will only listen to Cara Romero when I’m commuting—either on a train, a bus, or a plane. And I always worked on it on my phone for the first drafts. It was like a game—some people play Wordle, I was playing the game with Cara Romero.
Mira Jacob: That’s amazing! But it only works when you’re in transit?
Angie Cruz: Well, I made that constraint because I figured if I didn’t put any pressure on myself at all, then it would be fun again. Because the truth is that writing wasn’t fun anymore. I felt kind of beaten down by the feedback I was getting for Dominicana, and also beaten down by the feedback I was getting about what it means to be an immigrant in the United States. I felt like, will we ever be treated well here in the United States? Those images of kids on the border…. I was very afraid for many people that I love. We were questioning was it citizenship.
At the same time, there was a lot of things going on in Dominican Republic, and they continue to happen on the Haitian-Dominican border, where Haitians are and were in dramatic numbers being deported and their citizenships were being stripped.
All of that combined just made me feel very scared. So I had to find a way to have fun with the work and believe that storytelling still matters to me, even if it didn’t matter to anybody else. In the same way that my grandmother—my grandmother spinning stories in her kitchen? She’s not trying to get published. But those stories, you know, they’re pretty good.
Angie Cruz is a novelist and editor. Her most recent novel is How Not To Drown in A Glass of Water (2022). Her novel, Dominicana was the inaugural book pick for GMA book club and shortlisted for The Women’s Prize, longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction, The Aspen Words Literary Prize, a RUSA Notable book and the winner of the ALA/YALSA Alex Award in fiction. It was named most anticipated/ best book in 2019 by Time, Newsweek, People, Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Esquire. Cruz is the author of two other novels, Soledad and Let It Rain Coffee and the recipient of numerous fellowships and residencies including the Lighthouse Fellowship, Siena Art Institute, and the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Fellowship. She’s published shorter works in The Paris Review, VQR, Callaloo, Gulf Coast and other journals. She’s the founder and Editor-in-chief of the award winning literary journal, Aster(ix) and is currently an Associate Professor at University of Pittsburgh. She divides her time between Pittsburgh, New York and Turin.