February 27, 2013
|(Photo by Amanda Miley)|
many were excited by acclaimed Afro-Puerto Rican writer Mayra Santos-Febres’
visit to Rollins, few seemed as excited as Santos-Febres herself. A featured
author in the 2013 Winter With the Writers Festival of the Literary Arts,
Santos-Febres greeted each new event and person with unwavering charisma and
humor. Asked if she found the constant bustle of receptions and readings
tiring, she replied that she lives for it. “Talking about literature with other
people who love it is the most fun thing you can do with your clothes on,” she
Santos-Febres is a professor of literature at the University of Puerto Rico and has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Cornell. She has written short stories, poetry, essays, novels, and the screenplay for the movie Kabo & Platon, Puerto Rico’s official submission to the 82nd Academy Award’s Foreign Language category in 2010. Her works include Urban Oracles, for which she earned the Juan Rulfo Award; Sirena Selena; and Our Lady of the Night.
Sirena Selena is a novel about a 15-year-old bolero-singing drag queen set against the backdrop of the Caribbean LGBT scene. What made you want to write a story about such an unconventional character? What sparked your interest in LGBT issues?
I do not see this novel as solely dealing with LGBT issues. I see Sirena as a metaphoric representation of the whole Caribbean. The fact that s/he is a transvestite is just a fact. Basically, I did what Flaubert did with Emma Bovary. He talked about his society through the character of a woman—an adulterous woman. When the novel was going to be banned, he responded, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Nowadays, I do not think that there is a community in the world that is working more to advance development of civil rights and social justice than the LGBT community. I am using what my society gives me—the heroes of my times—to talk about what is still left to fix and conquer—and also to talk about the Caribbean. So, “Sirena Selena, c’est moi.” We are all transvestites in the Caribbean and abroad.
During the Winter With the Writers Q&A, you and Ricardo Pau-Llosa both indicated that race determines one’s cultural background to a lesser degree in the Caribbean than it does in the U.S., yet you have touched on race in your stories. How important is your race and heritage to you and your work?
Race determines cultures not in a lesser degree, but in a different degree. The thing is that race and racism in the Caribbean does not work in an exclusive social economy, but through an (sometimes forced) inclusive social economy. It’s all very complicated. You just have to study race in the Caribbean, spend some time in the region and you’ll see what we meant.
You’ve said that telling stories is very important to you. So far in your career, you’ve written poetry, novels, and a screenplay. What do you think is the best medium for telling stories? Do you have a preference?
I prefer novels. However, I think that the theme of the piece determines its form. Some texts work better in poetry than in essay or stories or plays. It is good though to learn as many techniques in creative writing as one can, so that, as a writer, one has the flexibility to work with the piece and its need.
What’s your favorite type of music?
Salsa. Old school. Just kidding! To tell you the truth, my favorite music is Beethoven’s Nocturne. It always makes me cry. I also enjoy Argentinean rock, such as singer/composer Cerati. I also love Brazilian pop music, Sting, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Peter Gabriel (and I confess my love for Eddie Palmieri’s Latin Jazz piano solos).
By Jonathan Pamplin
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